U.S. House and Senate lawmakers are discussing the length of a short-term extension of FAA authorization as prospects continue to dim for the possible completion of a more comprehensive reauthorization bill before the September 30 deadline. The FAA’s current authorization is set to expire on September 30, but neither the full House nor the Senate have taken action on a long-term reauthorization bill. House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee leaders had hoped to bring up their version of the bill, which contains the controversial measure to create the independent air traffic control (ATC) organization, on Wednesday or Thursday of this week. However, the bill was left off the House agenda for this week, and a committee spokesman noted that Hurricane Irma has thrown a wrench into this week's plans.
Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Oregon), the ranking Democrat on the T&I committee and chief critic of the ATC measure, however, said, “It doesn’t seem to me that things have changed very much” and expressed doubts about its long-term passage, given Democratic opposition and opposition in the Senate. “It’s very unlikely,” he said.
DeFazio instead is hoping for at least a six-month “extension of the FAA’s authorization to give airports more certainty in budgeting and planning.”The Senate supports such an extension, he added, but questioned whether House Republicans would seek a shorter time frame.
He dismissed the possibility of attaching the ATC proposal to a must-pass bill, saying they “would be killing” such a bill.
Meanwhile, proponents of the ATC measure last week touted a new Transportation Inspector General report calling the FAA’s NextGen benefits estimate “overly optimistic,” noting that capabilities have not yet been implemented and face challenges. The report further questioned the lack of alternative outcomes.
But also last week, opponents of the ATC measure highlighted a Government Accountability Office study that found the FAA is incrementally implementing and addressing risks associated with NextGen, and that recent cost estimates are “within range” of estimates from a decade ago.
“This GAO study is among several that break through the host of dubious allegations being made by the airlines and their supporters about the need for ATC privatization, which amounts to a wholesale giveaway of the nation’s ATC system to the airlines, themselves,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen.
“Equally important, the GAO and other congressional watchdogs are joined in raising serious concerns about this risky idea by consumer groups, more than 100 U.S. mayors, more than 100 business leaders, think tanks on the political right and left, members of Congress from both political parties and a majority of American citizens.”